I’d like to begin this week’s Florida Keys fishing report by welcoming several of our seasonal friends back to the Keys. I was pleased to see many familiar faces at Sparky’s Landing in Key Colony Beach this past week and I look forward to fishing with many of you over the months ahead. You’ve arrived at the ideal time to experience some truly amazing fishing!
Speaking of seasonal visitors, the cold weather pelagic game fish (most notably the sailfish) are arriving in good numbers as well. This past Monday we caught three sails aboard the Best Bet in just a few hours— two while slow trolling live pilchards, and one that was spraying bait in the shallows.
It seems that more and more sailfish are arriving each day and the bite should only improve when the temperature drops a few degrees. With all the bait that is around, and all the reports funneling in of multiple sails already being caught throughout the Keys (despite the unseasonably warm weather), all indications point towards this being another incredible Florida Keys sailfish season.
For those of you planning on targeting sails over the next few weeks I recommend heading out to the 100 to 180-feet of water depths and looking for current edges or color changes. Put out a spread of live ballyhoo or pilchards and work both sides of the edge until you locate the fish. Keep your eyes open for free jumpers, and once you see one try and get south-southwest of the fish and pitch out a net full of freebies to keep the fish around while you’re getting your baits out. Fish generally travel towards the southwest this time of year so whenever you’re trying to get ahead of a free jumping sail it’s a good bet he’s headed that direction.
While slow trolling for sailfish I generally use light spinning tackle with 15-pound monofilament line, with a long, 15-foot stretch of fluorocarbon leader attached to a circle hook. For bait, large pilchards and live ballyhoo are usually my bait of choice. For those of you looking to load up on ballyhoo you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding them on the reef. Just anchor up, put out a block of chum, and wait for them to show up in your chum slick.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, the patch reefs have been teaming with life and over the past week we’ve been experiencing phenomenal catches of muttons, mangroves, yellowtails, black and red grouper, and loads of cero mackerel.
Live pilchards and ballyhoo, fished on a 3/8 or ½ ounce jig head have been yielding the best results, while small pinfish are also an excellent bait of choice. Use a stretch of 20 or 30-pound fluorocarbon leader depending on the water clarity, and remember to get that fish off the bottom as soon as you have him hooked up.
Inshore, look for the flats to be most productive during the late morning and early afternoon hours and for tailing bonefish and permit to be most active on the falling tides.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Patch Reefs and Sailfish
Hit the patch reefs to catch a tasty dinner of snapper and grouper, and then head out to the edge of the reef in pursuit of high-flying sailfish.
A day of patch reef fishing this past week that produced plenty of grouper, snapper, and cero mackerel.
The happy hour crew from Sparky’s with a limit of mangrove snappers up to 4lbs caught aboard the Best Bet.